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Year 2005 No. 34, March 9, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority

Blair Presses Reluctant Abbas into London Conference

Has the Second Intifada Come to an End?

The Palestinian Election

A Political Abstention

Elections, But No Democracy

This Is about Israel, Not Anti-Semitism

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London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority

The so-called London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority took place at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on Tuesday, March 1. Hosted and chaired by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the British government, the summit meeting was attended by the new President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, the foreign ministers of the US, France, Russia, and many other countries in Europe and the Middle East, as well as representatives from the World Bank and other major international bodies.

The meeting was presented as "an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to set out their plans to build up the institutions they will need to underpin a future Palestinian state". In other words it was designed in order to continue to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to comply with demands, from the US, Britain and Israel in particular, that everything should be done to dismantle what are referred to as "terrorist organisations", that is to say those organisations that have fought for the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly in the coming period when elections are to be held. At the same time, the big powers are also demanding that the future Palestinian state should also adhere to their Eurocentric values in regard to its political institutions, its economic system and the nature of its security apparatus. The meeting was also held at a time when the US, supported by Britain and others, is attempted to implement its "Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative", a demand that all countries throughout the region implement political reforms and obey its diktat.

In his opening statement Tony Blair indicated the nature of the meeting by focusing not on the issue of the rights of the heroic Palestinian people, an issue that does not appear to have been discussed at all, but rather on his hope that a settlement in the Middle East would play a major role in the so called "war on terrorism". Not surprisingly therefore, no mention was made of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, but much emphasis was placed on the need for them to follow the steps demanded by the governments of Britain and the US for establishing a "viable state" in the future. In her remarks at the meeting, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, spoke of the need of the Palestinian Authority to undergo reform, particularly in regard to its "security institutions". She also took the opportunity to call on all states in the region to "end incitement in their media, cut off all funding for terrorism, stop their support for extremist education, and establish normal relations with Israel".

The London meeting concluded with a 17-page communiqué setting out the tasks of the Palestinian Authority and the "international community" in the areas of governance, economy and security. In regard to security, for example, it was announced that US General William E Ward would be heading to the region in order to "assist" the Palestinian security services. In fact, the US will oversee the complete "restructuring and retraining" of the Palestinian security forces, as well as liaising with the security apparatus of the Zionist government of Israel.

The London Meeting also provided the opportunity for another concerted attack on the Syria government, orchestrated on this occasion by the US in alliance with France. In this context both countries also speculated that it might be necessary to install an international "peace-keeping" force in Lebanon, while Syria was accused of supporting all those opposed to the aims of the US and Britain in Iraq as well as Palestine.

The US, Britain and the other big powers used the occasion of the London Meeting to pose as the greatest supporters of democracy in the Middle East and the greatest friends of the Palestinian people. The state terrorism of the big powers and Zionist Israel, which has created all the problems in the Middle East, is swept under the carpet by the war criminals who pose as the greatest peacemakers. But it is evident that their intentions are to continue to interfere in the internal affairs of the countries of this region, to establish new strategic and political arrangements that are in their interests, to dominate any future Palestinian state and to suppress any opposition to their plans under the guise of combating terrorism. The people of Britain and those of Palestine and the Middle East can therefore have no illusions about the aims of the US, Britain and the other big powers.

Article Index



Blair Presses Reluctant Abbas into London Conference

Chris McGreal in Ramallah, February 28, 2005, Guardian

Downing Street had to put pressure on a reluctant Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to attend Tony Blair's Middle East conference in London tomorrow after the Palestinian leadership expressed fears that the meeting will serve Israel's interests by raising new hurdles to the revival of political negotiations. Mr Abbas had planned to send his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, as a demonstration of scepticism about the conference, which will agree specific political and security reforms and mechanisms to revive the Palestinian economy.

Palestinian officials said that after US and Israeli pressure forced Mr Blair to abandon his original plan for a full peace conference to push forward political talks, the leadership feared that tomorrow's meeting would do little more than set out a fresh series of targets for the Palestinians before a return to the Road Map peace process.

The Palestinians say the conference will do almost nothing to press Israel to meet its Road Map obligations or fulfil existing commitments to ease the strictures of occupation and end settlement expansion.

But about 10 days ago Downing Street finally persuaded Mr Abbas to travel to London in part because the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and several Arab delegations will attend the meeting.

"Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] was very reluctant to go to London," said the Palestinian deputy foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. "There was a grave concern about what this meeting was about. But we are demonstrating our interest by sending a very high level delegation."

Israel has refused to attend the meeting but it was consulted over the agenda and won changes to the wording of the final declaration in tense meetings between Ariel Sharon's closest adviser, Dov Weisglass, and Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Mr Blair's Middle East envoy.

Copies of confidential British working documents obtained by the Guardian show that a demand that Israel reciprocate Palestinian actions by fulfilling its obligations under the Road Map peace plan was watered down in later drafts of the conference declaration to be made tomorrow. Palestinian officials say that was at Israel's behest.

The documents also show that the Palestinians were able to win some changes on the final declaration to the frustration of Mr Weisglass, including a recognition that economic regeneration will be hampered unless Israel lifts its matrix of roadblocks and other controls in the West Bank. The killing of four Israelis in Friday's suicide bombing outside a Tel Aviv club will have strengthened the focus on reform of the Palestinian security forces.

But the attack will also sharpen Palestinian arguments that unless there is international pressure on Israel to fulfil commitments to halt the growth of its West Bank settlements, and to re-engage in political negotiations, it may be hard to sustain support for the fragile ceasefire put in place three weeks ago.

Mr Blair originally wanted a fully-fledged peace conference but Israel objected and the Americans concurred.

"The initial thought of the conference was more of a political nature, a peace conference," said Mr Abdullah. "But you need two to tango. The Israelis are not there so the British thought of a more modest meeting with a less ambitious agenda." Mr Sharon won an assurance from Mr Blair during the prime minister's visit to Jerusalem in December that tomorrow's meeting would be limited to discussing Palestinian reform and not be "political" by discussing revival of the Road Map.

Mr Weisglass has travelled to London twice in the past fortnight for talks with Mr Blair's team, described by a British official as "tense".

Palestinian sources said that Israel objected to a phrase in the first draft of the meeting's final declaration that said Palestinian reforms should be met by "reciprocal action by Israel in relation to its own commitments". Israel said the wording directly linked the conference to the Road Map, something Mr Blair told Mr Sharon would not happen.

The Palestinians suggested the words "parallel" or "simultaneous" as softer alternatives but Israel still objected. Later drafts merely "urged and expected" Israel to meet its commitments but without direct linkage.

"There was a reference to Israel's obligations to reciprocate the steps taken by Palestinians," said Mr Abdullah. "Israel was not happy. Now the Israelis are asked or urged, or however mild you can be."

There was also wrangling over Palestinian objections to implementation of the meeting's declaration being "subject to Israel's security needs". That was watered down to "taking account of Israeli security needs". However, the Palestinians won a recognition in the draft declaration that the infrastructure of occupation is a major impediment to economic revival.

Article Index



Has the Second Intifada Come to an End?

Radio Havana Cuba, February 9, 2005

The entire planet seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when on February 8 the president of the National Palestine Authority, Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, shook hands. The action was immediately termed "historic" and a cease-fire was announced between the two peoples.

There was relief, because in fact it appears that once again there is hope that the massacre in the Middle East will end and because peace is an aspiration of those who dream and work to build a new world in which people will live together in harmony.

But after the sensational beginning, a series of questions arise over the true significance of the summit held in the Egyptian beach resort of Sharm El Sheik and the solidity of the verbal agreement sealed between the two governments, in which apparently, both sides promised to recognise the other's legitimacy.

Has Zionist Ariel Sharon truly abandoned his plan for the destruction of the Palestinian people and absolute dominance of the Israeli State in the Middle East, just after the death of his principal opponent, Yasser Arafat? Could a simple handshake mean the end of the second Palestinian uprising or Intifada, during which for four years one of the world's most modern and best-equipped armies has laid siege to the Palestinian population armed only with stones and shovels?

Or is it that in the end Sharon, the extreme Israeli rightwing and their allies in Washington, have found an alternative; a different way to achieve their objectives without having to pay such a high political and moral cost?

It is important to remember that this last explosion of violence was detonated by Sharon himself with his provocative visit to a revered Palestinian holy site in September of 2000. It was an action coldly calculated to provoke a crisis that would place him at the head of an Israeli government by discrediting one considered to be too moderate and "soft" on Palestinians. The uprising that followed, the second Intifada, gave Sharon the ideal pretext to attempt to destroy the Palestinian resistance with the practice of a policy of "selective" assassinations for which he was condemned around the world.

What's more, he isolated President Arafat inside the walls of his Mukata headquarters, with a cordon of fire, limiting the Palestinian leader's contacts with his organisation and his people. Then, Sharon had the nerve to publicly accuse Arafat of being unable to contain the violence which Tel Aviv sparked daily as it murdered children and women, destroyed homes and expelled hundreds of defenceless families. And, as if that weren't enough, he built a huge wall on territory that didn't belong to Israel, isolating thousands of people and condemning them to hunger or exile, sealing the borders to more than 150,000 Palestinians who earned their living working in Israeli industrial centres.

And now what magic will he use to pass himself off as a peacemaker and what will he offer in exchange? Will he allow thousands of Palestinians to work in Israeli factories, will he release 400 or 500 prisoners? Will he reopen the Rafah border to allow passage between Gaza and Egypt and return authorisation to international officials for free access to the area?

All that and much more existed in September of 2000. The wall didn't yet exist, nor had the more than 4,000 Palestinian people and various Palestinian leaders died under a barrage of Israeli bullets and missiles.

The world wants peace in the Middle East: it is urgently needed. But peace will only be possible when all the rights of the Palestinian people and State have been restored, when millions of refugees return and when Israel learns how to live in a climate of tolerance and cooperation with its neighbours.

Article Index



The Palestinian Election

By Gary Zatzman, Co-editor, Dossier on Palestine

On January 9, 2005, the Palestinian residents of most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip participated in elections to settle the question of who would succeed the late President Yasser Arafat at the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Under Palestinian law, the elections had to take place within 60 days of the death of the president of the PA. News agencies ignored the very notion of holding an election under Zionist occupation, and the occupier was determined to create maximum obstacles for participation by eligible Palestinian voters residing in East Jerusalem, which the Zionist junta illegally annexed to Israel following the June 1967 war. 

This election campaign and its result have become the source of a veritable Niagara of disinformation about the current condition of the Palestinians and their nation-building project. Especially notable has been the unhealthy and morbid speculations about both the PA's new President, Mahmoud Abbas (nom de guerre Abu Mazen), and his closest associates from the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Like the extensive efforts, exerted at the time of Yasser Arafat's funeral – to bury the Palestinian national movement beside him in the same coffin by describing the historical moment as a unique opportunity to get out from under the allegedly "terrible" and even "murderous" legacy of the founder of the PLO – much of the disinformation surrounding these elections was similarly aimed at sowing maximum pessimism and hopelessness about the future among a people at the very moment they were grieving the irreplaceable loss of an historic leading figure.

The PA is an administrative apparatus set up under the Oslo Accords reached in 1993 between the PLO and the government of the State of Israel. It was backed by the United States and Russia and some other lesser powers – effectively: the world imperialist system of states. Operating between the armed military presence of the State of Israel as occupier of the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the one hand and the resident Palestinian population on the other, the PA was a compromise accepted by the Palestinians' leadership as a means of patriating the extensive infrastructure of Palestinian civil society, set up in the preceding years in exile under the umbrella of the PLO, back onto some portion of historic Palestinian territory.

Thus the PA has always been severely compromised and its freedom of action almost non-existent. However, if it were not serving the interests of the various strata and class forces contending within the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, it could not have survived to this point. The Palestinian people themselves have never been under any illusion that the PA is any substitute for the necessity to continue armed struggle, including armed self-defence, against the Zionist occupier. The Palestinian middle strata have relied on the PA to stabilise civil society in some functioning form in the teeth of one of the most vicious military occupations to be found anywhere on this earth in the last 50 years. Some business and professional strata have used it as the cover to do deals with the occupier (certain Palestinian construction capitalists are among those pouring some of the cement used for the apartheid wall). The occupier wants the Palestinian police established under the PA to take on some of the burden of what the Israelis call "anti-terrorist" manhunts (hunting down and/or arresting and/or killing Palestinian freedom fighters resisting the checkpoints regime and other armed incursions of the Israeli occupation forces and Zionist settler-colonisers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip).

Even if some are using the PA as a sellout system, the living reality under such an occupation is far more complex than can be comprehended by simply dismissing it as just that. The essential point to grasp is that the PA is not now, and never was, a Palestinian state in the sense of one-half of the oft-discussed, so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both inherently – as an administrative structure typically imposed by a colonising power (Israel in this instance) – as well as because of the tremendous block imposed by the State of Israel backed by the United States against meeting any commitments whatsoever under the Oslo Accords (especially commitments to address such crucial matters as the dismantling of the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the final status of Jerusalem or enabling implementation of the right of return of Palestinians displaced as refugees as the result of Zionist "ethnic cleansing" and theft of their lands in 1947-48 and June 1967), neither the PA nor its administrative jurisdiction has been in any position to constitute itself the nation-state capable of serving as the homeland of the Palestinian people. As a result of the above-mentioned Zionist dispossession, some two-thirds of the Palestinian people reside largely involuntarily outside historic Palestine (i.e., outside the territory of the State of Israel proper and outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip), while the logic of the PA's creation, imposed by the world imperialist system, excludes them from any role in these PA elections. At the same time, since his death, there has been no one in a position of authority or prestige comparable to Yasser Arafat's as a national symbol, capable of leveraging the formal leadership of the PA such that the unity of this partially-dispersed nation could nevertheless be maintained and the nation-building project of the Palestinian people as a whole carried forward to its next stages.

The single most fundamental conclusion to clarify about these elections is that the outcome could change none of these fundamental features. For the Palestinian people, there is dealing with daily life after Arafat. For those leadership elements who were lurking offstage in the wings for years awaiting this moment of succession, the path ahead is far from smooth, more fraught than ever before with perils, especially for anyone seeking some deal with the Zionists but lacking Yasser Arafat's standing among the Palestinian people and the fighting peoples of the world. 

As for the Zionist junta, their indecent eagerness to humiliate and suppress serious alternative presidential candidates – such as Marwan Barghouti, who briefly entertained running for office before being pushed aside and who remains nevertheless jailed for life in Israel, and Mustafa Barghouti who was hounded and even arrested by the Israeli military while undertaking ordinary electioneering in the West Bank – served as a sharp reminder to the rest of the world once again of these reactionaries' continuing political bankruptcy and desperation to retain the status quo intact. Their blatant interference in an elections process that is absolutely none of their business in any respect whatsoever also highlighted once again the absurdity and imperialist content of the Zionist junta's outrageous claims for decades to being "the only democracy in the Middle East". 

As the election campaign began in late November 2004, a series of extensive public opinion surveys conducted throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip reported widely varying assessments of the relative strength of the various candidates, but agreed as to the main issues on the agenda of Palestinians living under PA jurisdiction: 1. undoing the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem by the Zionist junta, the figleaf it has used to "legalise" its entire occupation regime throughout the Palestinian territories with all its myriad noxious consequences; and 2. implementing the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Those residing under PA jurisdiction will seek ways and means to prevail on the PA to press the Zionist junta on these matters, without the slightest illusion that the PA=a Palestinian state and without forgetting for a millisecond that neither the Zionist junta nor their US imperialist sponsors want to move away from their long-standing position of turning the knife in the heart of the entire Palestinian people on these fundamental issues of their nation-building project.

For the world imperialist system, the PA elections affirmed that Yasser Arafat has departed the stage. For the fighting peoples of the world, meanwhile, they serve to affirm that the Palestinian people remain as determined as ever to persist with their nation-building project through to the end.

Article Index



A Political Abstention

Amira Hass, Ha'aretz, January 12, 2005

"Until five, six in the afternoon I felt proud and happy, and then everything changed," attorney Raji Sourani told the Palestinian Appeals Court judges, describing what thousands of people felt on the Palestinian election day.

The initial impression of a strong turnout and diligent obedience of the rules and regulations was impressive. But in the afternoon, the festive feelings were replaced by concern. The turnout was lower than expected. The announcement by the election commission that it was extending voting hours was not surprising. "It was definitely possible to interpret it as concern for all, because of the checkpoints, the Israeli delays, the fears," Sourani said as he continued to describe the events to the three judges whose panel was formed especially for election affairs.

There were other lawyers at the hearing, colleagues of Sourani from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which he runs, researchers from the centre, and three international observers. Most, including Sourani, had spent election day in the field. Suddenly, at several locations around 5.30 pm that day, and at several other locations an hour later, confusion erupted. Shortly before the time balloting was originally to be concluded and two hours before the newly scheduled time, masses of people began to arrive. Most were transported in pickup trucks and taxis, and none bothered to hide the fact that the hurried drivers were Fatah activists.

Here and there, mysteriously, the lights went out in some of the voting stations and registration was done by candlelight. Outside one or two voting stations, shots were heard. To the amazement of the observers, including many who were trained by the PCHR for three months, the registration rolls of the population registrar, the supposed authoritative list of eligible voters who were not included in the voter registration list, were shelved. Verbal, unwritten orders reached voter station officials to allow anyone who had an ID card to vote.

It was difficult to hide the fact that the election commission was operating under pressure from Fatah and that the ruling party had reasons to feel pressured. Its main rival, Hamas, which had called for an election boycott, would be able to make political hay out of a low turnout, claiming that those who did not vote were obeying its orders, that it has a large following in the public and that Fatah's policies under Abu Mazen do not represent the majority. But the way that was chosen – to circumvent and violate the rules as laid down by the Palestinian Legislative Council in the law – harmed Fatah, stained the election commission and strengthened Hamas' old claims that its political opponent would never allow fair elections that accurately reflect the public's loyalties.

Absurdly, the ruckus of the last two hours did not dramatically increase the number of voters. The PCHR appealed to the court to determine that the election commission decision was illegal. It did not demand that the results at some voting stations be cancelled, but rather that a message be sent to the public that nobody is above the law and that the judiciary would not allow political bodies and others to obstruct legal processes so that voters in the truly important PLC elections set for July won't doubt the outcome's credibility. The petition was rejected, on formalistic grounds. The PCHR felt somewhat disappointed, but as Sourani told the judges, democracy is an ongoing process, a learning process. And the petition was part of it.

What's left is to examine the reasons for the low turnout: 45 percent of the eligible voters. Palestinian society is supremely political. So the abstention was also very political. It proves that the Palestinian public is not suffering from the illusion about who really rules over its life. It is not Abu Mazen, or Fatah, but the Israeli government and its emissary, the army. At no point on election day was it possible to forget that. At the Jabalya election station, a school that had been hit in the past by missiles; at Beit Lahia, the farming town in Gaza whose greenhouses and orchards have been erased by order of the army; at the voting station in Khan Yunis, which could only be reached through the rubble left behind by the army as it defended the settlements of Gush Katif; in Tel Sultan in Rafah, where the roads crushed by IDF tanks have not been repaired yet.

No wonder that a large proportion, perhaps the majority, of the PCHR's activities have focused for years on Israeli control over the Palestinians. Risking their lives, the centre’s researchers document IDF attacks in Gaza, the destruction and killing that the army leaves behind on a daily basis, the fertile fields that have been laid to waste, and the draconian limits on freedom of movement. Despite the very slim chances for any real response, they file various complaints with the army and occasional petitions to the Israeli High Court of Justice. In that sense, they function as teachers in a lesson about the non-democratic essence of an occupying society. The pupils, however, aren't interested in taking the lessons.

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Elections, But No Democracy

MADRE*, January 11, 2005

On January 9, Palestinians voted in a presidential election for the first time since 1996. To most people in the US, elections connote a democratic system of government. But elections without sovereignty don't equal democracy. The Palestinian territories, where voting took place, have been under Israeli military occupation for 37 years – a fact that won't be changed by the elections. Israel uses violence to control all aspects of Palestinian life, from freedom of movement to freedom of the press, precluding "free and fair" elections from the start. Under their newly elected president, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians will still lack control over their territory, economy, and foreign and domestic policies. This raises a question about what, exactly, the new president will preside over.

President of What?

Mainstream media coverage implied that these were elections for the new president of "Palestine". But no independent Palestinian state exists. Rather, Abbas will head the Palestinian Authority (PA), a body created under the defunct, US-sponsored Oslo Agreements signed by the Palestinian leadership and Israel in 1993. The PA has been under attack by Israel since 2000. But prior to that, Israel and the US allowed the PA to administer limited aspects of Palestinian public life (education, health, municipal and taxation services) in exchange for guaranteeing security to Israel, mainly by cracking down on Palestinian militants.

In the current framework, Abbas will have only as much power as US-backed Israel grants him. Remember that Yasser Arafat, the late PA president, spent the last years of his life under permanent house arrest for refusing to forfeit Palestinian rights guaranteed by UN resolutions and international law. Once Arafat refused to meet Israel's demands, the US branded him "irrelevant" and began pressuring Palestinians to hold elections for a new PA president.

Only a minority of Palestinians – those living in the Occupied Territories – were eligible to vote. Unlike the elections in Afghanistan and those scheduled in Iraq, Palestinians living abroad as refugees or exiles were barred from voting.

Many Palestinians, including supporters of the two militant Islamic factions, boycotted the elections because they saw them as part of a bankrupt political process meant to facilitate ongoing Israeli control of the Occupied Territories.

Others – including Abbas' main challenger, long-time human rights activist Dr. Mustafa Barghouti – saw the elections as part of a broader process of building democratic Palestinian institutions and as a precondition for producing a PA president with legitimate authority to negotiate with Israel. Palestinian progressives like Bargouti have reminded the world that Palestinians have a distinguished democratic tradition, developed in opposition to decades of Israeli occupation.

"Israelis Elect New Palestinian Leader"
Satirical headlines like the one above from the Electronic Intifada reflect Israeli interference in the election. Israeli soldiers beat, arrested, and restricted the movement of all Palestinian candidates except the favoured Abbas, preventing other candidates from effectively campaigning against him. In fact, five of the 11 original candidates stood down, citing Israeli restrictions on their freedom to campaign.

Israeli violence against Palestinians continued unabated throughout the campaign period. Israeli soldiers killed nearly 30 Palestinians, including six boys from one family, during the campaign season.

We've heard that Israel "facilitated" voting by withdrawing troops from parts of the Occupied Territories. But the troops were redeployed right after the election. The reality is that elections under military occupation are never truly democratic.

Elections at Gunpoint
After the death of long-time Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, many Palestinians saw this election as a chance to choose a PA president with whom Israel would agree to negotiate. This was a critical consideration for many people who have suffered tremendously during four years of escalated Israeli assaults. Since 2000, nearly 3,500 Palestinians have been killed, and poverty and child malnutrition rates have tripled.

As society's primary caretakers, Palestinian women are overwhelmingly responsible for the wellbeing of thousands who have been traumatised and wounded by Israeli violence, and women are particularly hard-hit by the wide scale destruction of homes, clinics, public infrastructure, and supplies of food and drinking water.

In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon has described these measures as a tactic for eroding Palestinians' resolve to reject Israeli terms at the negotiating table.

Like the terrorists he condemns, Sharon has made ordinary women and families suffer in order to induce political results, in this case, the election of Abbas, a presumably conciliatory negotiating partner.

Undermining Democracy and Human Rights: The US Role

Bush sees the Palestinian elections, like those planned in Iraq, as part of a broader US plan for overhauling governments throughout the Middle East.

Bush strongly favoured Abbas, who rejects armed struggle as a strategy for ending Israeli occupation. Bush promised to facilitate $500 million more in international aid to the PA if Abbas won.

The US will now likely push for a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the PA. But the same politics that doomed the Oslo Agreements remain at play.

The US supports Israel almost unconditionally: Bush has endorsed Israeli plans to annex much of the West Bank (in violation of the UN Charter); denied Palestinian refugees' right to return to their lands in what is now Israel (guaranteed by UN Resolution 194); and condoned Israel's illegal West Bank settlements. Meanwhile, Bush's 2003 "roadmap" indicates that he will pressure Palestinians to sign agreements that disregard human rights and international law.

What Next?
Abbas faces a real dilemma: he was elected despite being the favoured candidate of his constituents' two biggest perceived enemies, Israel and the US. Palestinians are adamant that he not negotiate away basic rights, while Israel and the US insist that he do just that.

Abbas has already shown himself willing to make concessions, but progress towards peace will depend on the US and Israel realising that the political impasse cannot be resolved by military force.

Ultimately, Abbas will be judged not by the fact that he was elected to office, but by how he negotiates with Israel. Despite Israeli/US attempts to dominate the elections and the PA itself, the elections were important: they demonstrated yet again that Palestinians have the collective will and the political culture to create democratic government. They lack only the freedom to do so.

* MADRE is an international women's human rights organisation.

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This Is about Israel, Not Anti-Semitism

by Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, March 4, 2005, Guardian

Not to speak out against this injustice would not only be wrong. It would ignore the threat it poses to us all

Racism is a uniquely reactionary ideology, used to justify the greatest crimes in history – the slave trade, the extermination of all original inhabitants of the Caribbean, the elimination of every native inhabitant of Tasmania, apartheid. The Holocaust was the ultimate, "industrialised" expression of racist barbarity.

Racism serves as the cutting edge of the most reactionary movements. An ideology that starts by declaring one human being inferior to another is the slope whose end is at Auschwitz. That is why I detest racism.

No serious commentator has argued that my comments to an Evening Standard reporter outside City Hall last month were anti-Semitic. So I am glad that Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, accepted on these pages that "Ken is sincere when he states that he regards the Holocaust as the worst crime of the last century".

The contribution of Jewish people to human civilisation and culture is unexcelled and extraordinary. You only have to think of giants such as Einstein, Freud and Marx to realise that human civilisation would be unrecognisably diminished without the achievements of the Jewish people. The same goes for the Jewish contribution to London today.

As mayor, I have pressed for police action over anti-semitic attacks at the highest level, and my administration has backed a series of initiatives of importance to the Jewish community, including hosting the Anne Frank exhibition at City Hall and measures to ensure the go-ahead for the north London eruv.

Throughout the 1970s, I worked happily with the Board of Deputies in campaigns against the National Front. Problems began when, as leader of the Greater London Council, I rejected the board's request that I should fund only Jewish organisations that it approved of. The Board of Deputies was unhappy that I funded Jewish organisations campaigning for gay rights and others that disagreed with policies of the Israeli government.

Relations with the board took a dramatic turn for the worse when I opposed Israel's illegal invasion of Lebanon, culminating in the massacres at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila. The board also opposed my involvement in the successful campaign in 1982 to convince the Labour party to recognise the PLO as the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people.

The fundamental issue on which we differ, as Henry Grunwald knows, is not anti-semitism – which my administration has fought tooth and nail – but the policies of successive Israeli governments.

To avoid manufactured misunderstandings, the policies of Israeli governments are not analogous to Nazism. They do not aim at the systematic extermination of the Palestinian people, in the way Nazism sought the annihilation of the Jews.

Israel's expansion has included ethnic cleansing. Palestinians who had lived in that land for centuries were driven out by systematic violence and terror aimed at ethnically cleansing what became a large part of the Israeli state. The methods of groups like the Irgun and the Stern gang were the same as those of the Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic: to drive out people by terror.

Today the Israeli government continues seizures of Palestinian land for settlements, military incursions into surrounding countries and denial of the right of Palestinians expelled by terror to return. Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, is a war criminal who should be in prison, not in office. Israel's own Kahan commission found that Sharon shared responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

Sharon continues to organise terror. More than three times as many Palestinians as Israelis have been killed in the present conflict. There are more than 7,000 Palestinians in Israel's jails.

To obscure these truths, those around Israel's present government have resorted to demonisation. Initial targets were Palestinians, and have now become Muslims. Take the Middle East Media Research Institute, run by a former colonel in Israeli military intelligence, which poses as a source of objective information but in reality selectively translates material from Arabic and presents Muslims and Arabs in the worst possible light.

Today the Israeli government is helping to promote a wholly distorted picture of racism and religious discrimination in Europe, implying that the most serious upsurge of hatred and discrimination is against Jews.

All racist and anti-semitic attacks must be stamped out. However, the reality is that the great bulk of racist attacks in Europe today are on black people, Asians and Muslims – and they are the primary targets of the extreme right. For 20 years Israeli governments have attempted to portray anyone who forcefully criticises the policies of Israel as anti-semitic. The truth is the opposite: the same universal human values that recognise the Holocaust as the greatest racist crime of the 20th century require condemnation of the policies of successive Israeli governments – not on the absurd grounds that they are Nazi or equivalent to the Holocaust, but because ethnic cleansing, discrimination and terror are immoral.

They are also fuelling anger and violence across the world. For a mayor of London not to speak out against such injustice would not only be wrong – but would also ignore the threat it poses to the security of all Londoners.

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